By Aderonke Oke
Psychology Today defines Imposter Syndrome as “People believe that they are undeserving of their achievements and the high esteem in which they are, in fact, generally held.
They feel that they aren’t as competent or intelligent as others might think—and that soon enough, people will discover the truth about them. Those with imposter syndrome are often well accomplished; they may hold high office or have numerous academic degrees.“
The previous careers I had navigated have often amplified my imposter syndrome, as I have always been one of the few Black people in the organisation.
I was constantly questioning if I truly belonged there and if it was down to sheer luck or tokenism.
There’s always this niggling feeling of doubt. My imagination would run riot when I hear the notification ping. An email from my manager or a calendar request ominously titled ‘Catch Up’. The number of times I would think ‘Right, that’s it the jig is up’.
Even though my reactions are quite extreme, I’m not wrong to think the worst, as imposter syndrome affects Black people in the workplace – more than their white counterparts.
Former First Lady Michelle Obama admitted in her book tour at a school in London that “It doesn’t go away, that feeling that you shouldn’t take me that seriously,”
President Obama replied. “I share that with you because we all have doubts in our abilities, about our power and what that power is. If I’m giving people hope then that is a responsibility, so I have to make sure that I am accountable.”
Ebony McGee from the University World News believes that Imposter Syndrome is in fact racism. Ebony and her colleagues interviewed 54 Black doctoral students in STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.
Almost all of them reported feeling ‘impostor-ish’ at one time or another in their academic lives.
Only three of their study participants dismissed these feelings as personal quirks or universal experiences that ‘everyone’ has. The rest, however, recognised the racial subtext behind these feelings.
The feelings of alienation didn’t just happen. They happened because the systems and structures at the foundation of STEM fields are racist.
Unfortunately, racism doesn’t disappear in the workplace. It uses different cloaks such as ‘micro-aggressions’, ‘unconscious bias’ and ‘implicit bias’, which can often run hand in hand with imposter syndrome.
Can It Be Resolved?
So, what can we do to tackle it? Unfortunately, there isn’t a one-size that answers everyone’s situation.
HubSpot has shared ways to tackle Imposter Syndrome – which has helped me tremendously.
1. Track and Measure Your Success – I have a ‘Wins’ folder in my inbox, when a project has gone well, or if I have received excellent feedback, it gets stored straight there.
If I have a moment of doubt – I read back the positive feedback, it really helps!
2. Say “Yes” to new opportunities – It’s impossible to say “yes” to everything, especially when you’re feeling stressed or spread thin. But it’s too common for people with impostor syndrome to turn down career-making opportunities because they don’t feel like they’d do a good job.
If you weren’t deemed capable, it wouldn’t have been offered to you. I have recently started a new role and the number of times I have been asked to help out on different projects and I have no idea how to do it! Does that stop me? Not at all!
I say yes and learn as I go, if anything it’s another skill to add to my CV.
3. No one should suffer in silence – Sharing your thoughts and experiences with someone else will make you better equipped to deal with your impostor syndrome. We recommend sharing them with both a mentor and your direct manager.
I have been lucky enough to be mentored in my career, it makes such a difference to speak with someone senior who looks like you and champions you.
Not everyone is so fortunate, and I often remind myself that imposter syndrome is something that truly never leaves, however, I remind myself that I can only control myself.
4. Be Kind To Yourself – This is probably the most important out of them all, change the way you talk to yourself. Negative self-talk is such a bad habit and something that it’s taken a lifetime for me to unlearn.
It is possible to turn down the volume on Imposter Syndrome and remind yourself daily that you are doing the best that you can.
5. Let Go of Your Inner Perfectionist – this one is a daily challenge, but we need to remember nobody is born an expert.
Also what nobody tells you is the beauty of making mistakes is that you learn from them, I have an ENTIRE book of life experiences! Ask any member of my family, they can attest!
I will end this with a quote from HubSpot – ‘While striving for perfection is certainly noble, it’s usually not realistic — and often, it’s counterproductive and will only make you feel more like a fraud.’